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  • A Singsong And A Scrap

    19 Feb 2008, 21:11

    I used to be a contributor to 'The Loop', a loose collective of compilation-tape swappers, until fatherhood distracted me for a while. I did make a couple of compilations for the kids, though: Thing One liked her third birthday Levellers cd, but this one is a massive hit with the under-six audience. Other families, we hear, have to listen to nursery rhymes in the car. Pah. Play ’em anarchist folk-punk. They love it.

    This was originally put together as a compilation of contemporary protest songs – but it took on a life of its own as its singalong qualities got the back seat involved and occupied on many long car journeys. There’s nothing quite like bombing down the motorway listening to your three-year-old hollering out Chumbawamba covering The Clash

    Loop XXIV (A Singsong and a Scrap)

    1 - Chumbawamba - Bankrobber - (2005)

    Everyone knows the Big Hit Tubthumping, but Chumbawamba have been doing all sorts of different things for ages now, starting off as a Crass and Conflict-inspired anarcho-punk band, discovering the joys of melody and rhythm, and currently doing the rounds as a slimmed-down acoustic three-piece folk outfit. This a cappella version of Clash song is off their most recent studio album, which donates its name to this compilation. Thing Two loves to sing along. I do hope she belts it out loud and proud at Nursery.

    2 - Billy Bragg - Which Side Are You On? - (1985)

    One of the four lefty numbers from the splendid Between The Wars ep, available on Brewing Up With, this adaptation of Florence Reece’s 1932 miners’ protest song is a short and snappy call to arms. Just Billy, an amplifier and a guitar, as he was always meant to be. Teach those kids young about the power of a union!

    3 - Chumbawamba - The Land of Do What You're Told - (2005)

    And the singalong fadeout here is a great way to introduce the concept of industrial action to your offspring (though it has to be said that there are times when ACAS would despair in our house…). Good for numeracy too. Anyway, go and wrap those defeated ideals up in mellow easy listening and folky harmonising.

    4 - Asian Dub Foundation - Tank - (2005)

    Things get a little more muscular now. Asian Dub Foundation are a fantastic fusion of styles – dub, rap, rock, and Middle Eastern and Asian traditional music. The three tracks on here are taken from the Tank album, written and recorded at least partly in response to the occupation of Iraq; the preceding one, Enemy Of The Enemy, is possibly even better. Check out 1000 Mirrors, with Sinead O’Connor.

    5 - Chumbawamba - Bella Ciao - (2005)

    A cappella again, the mischievous Leeds funsters adapting an Italian partisan song of WW2. This version commemorates the death of Carlo Giuliani during protests against the G8 summit in Genoa in 2001. I like the band’s position on the historical significance of the protest song: “Before the manufacture of bands and sentiment merely for profit, popular song was far more likely to be oppositional. The subject matter was work, the tavern, struggle, prison, religion (and with the exception of the evergreen love song) more likely to express a world view that was antagonistic to that of the status quo.”

    6 - Levellers - No Change - (1990)

    Couldn’t really do anarchist folk-punk without the Levs. Originally from their debut album A Weapon Called the Word, this can also be found on the first live cd of their acoustic incarnation with Rev Hammer, Drunk In Public 1. I love the melancholy clarity of Jon Sevink’s fiddle here, reflecting the fact that, at the end of the day, popular protest achieves sod all.

    7 - New Model Army - 51st State - (1986)

    The other great band named after a Parliamentarian Civil War faction, New Model Army thundered through the 1980s with a righteous anger against, well, pretty much everything. The earliest version of the compilation used a later, live version, but the club-footed cod-reggae middle-eight really ticked me off, so I used the original, from The Ghost of Cain. The pandering of the British government to the USA is the target here. Completely irrelevant in this day and age, of course.

    8 - Asian Dub Foundation - Oil - (2005)

    As we see here. Actually, Tank took me quite a while to get into – it’s less subtle musically than Enemy Of The Enemy. You notice Martin Savale’s bassline here – energetic, but less complex and interesting than Dr Das’ dubbier experimentalism. But I guess that’s kind of the point. And the two tracks off the album so far do hit you like, well, a tank.

    9 - Chumbawamba - On eBay - (2004)

    As William L Marcy said in 1831, “To the victor belong the spoils”. As Chumbawamba said in 2004, “From Babylon back to Babylon”. Off the album Un, which is the most varied of their recent material, inspired by and sampling all sorts of random stuff from internet radio. This was actually a single, I believe. Bet it was a big hit.

    10 - Levellers - Police On My Back - (1991)

    Great cover of The Clash’s cover of the Eddy Grant song. Most famous in our car for its child-friendly days-of-the-week refrain, but particularly enjoyable in my book for making a folky fiddle sound like the wailing police sirens of The Man, giving you hassle when you ain’t done nuffink!

    11 - Chumbawamba - Everything You Know Is Wrong - (2004)

    Best conspiracy theory song of all time? Just maybe, and certainly with the jauntiest accordions. Laugh out loud while watching nervously over your shoulder. There’s a track missing out of this compilation.

    12 - Bloc Party - Hunting For Witches - (2007)

    Their second album A Weekend In The City isn’t quite as strong as the first (though improved immensely by the addition of the godlike Flux) – one of its issues, I think, is the fact that the lyrics are more coherent, less opaque than on Silent Alarm, and in fact banal at times. Not here, though – a nicely scratchy and jumpy exploration of post 7/7 urban paranoia.

    13 – Asian Dub Foundation - Take Back the Power - (2005)

    Here, the enemies among us are the unelected rulers, the rulers we deserve, living rent-free within your mind. Even if a million on the streets don’t seem to be enough, “They must never succeed in turning us into them.”

    14 – Levellers - Where the Hell Are We Going to Live? - (1991)

    Protest on a much smaller scale here – about skyrocketing house prices and council flats. “You may want to live like a chicken, my friend, but I want to live like a man”. Originally by Paul Wright, Walthamstow reporter, or maybe Vin Garbutt, Teesside folkie. Who can say…

    15 – Billy Bragg - Waiting For The Great Leap Forwards (LP Version) - (1988)

    You really can’t do an album of protest songs without this one, centring as it does on the fanzine writer’s question about the use of mixing pop and politics. Bragg at his best, musically and lyrically. There’s so much more from him I could have used – not quite sure why The Internationale didn’t make it on, but there you are. Beam me up Scotty!

    16 – Rev Hammer and The Levellers - Burford Stomp - (1996)

    From Rev Hammer’s folk-opera of the life of Freeborn John Lilburn, leader of the historical Levellers, this has become a live Levs favourite, rattling through the story of the Banbury Civil War mutineers at its breakneck pace. The original album version is a bit sluggish, so this is from Too Drunk In public.

    17 – Chumbawamba - Jacob’s Ladder (Not in My Name) - (2003)

    Of course, 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq hang heavily over any group of contemporary protest songs. What’s notable about this track, though, is how it reflects Chumbawamba’s changed direction – Readymades and Then Some sampled folk singers from the past and present, rooting the band and the album in an age-old tradition. That’s Norfolk farmworker Harry Cox in there.

    18 – Rev Hammer - Elizabeth’s Great Gallop - (1996)

    Actually sung by Simon Friend, of the Levs, and Maddy Prior, of Steeleye Span, this is from the studio version of Freeborn John, and it’s the best song off it by a country mile. A traditional song structure set to a very twentieth-century baggy beat and effects pedal.

    19 – Levellers - For Us All - (2005)

    Simon Friend playing at home here, on the most joyously bouncy number of the last Levs album, Truth and Lies – which would have been a lot stronger had it been a four-track ep. Very much hoping for more Friend-penned and sung tracks on the new album – they do folk a whole lot more convincingly than they do Sixties. Okay, so this isn’t exactly a protest song, but it is all about solidarity. So there. And plus it has a kazoo.

    20 – Chumbawamba - You Can (Mass Trespass, 1932) - (2005)

    This is one for all country walkers, as a reminder of the political roots of the Ramblers’ Association. The 1932 Kinder Scout Mass Trespass saw ramblers attacked by gamekeepers, ringleaders arrested, and six people jailed. So not a million miles away from anti-G8 protests in Genoa, then.

    21 – Levellers - Musical Folk Group - (1997)

    Rev Hammer here, singing a Johnny Cash cover, backed by Mark, Simon and Jon of the Levellers. Another essential song for this compilation, with its words of wisdom for all young banjo players. Don’t go mixing politics with the folk songs of our land. There.

    22 – Chumbawamba - The World Turned Upside Down - (1993)

    Billy Bragg recorded this, of course, on Between The Wars, but this, the b-side to the Timebomb single, available on English Rebel Songs 1381-1984, just felt like a fitting way to end the cd, at least partly because it ends on a more positive note by missing out the last two verses. The Diggers (originally known as the True Levellers) are the seventeenth-century revolutionaries commemorated in Leon Rosselson’s song. So, plenty of Civil War references over the course of the compilation, and I didn’t even manage to fit in the Levellers’ cover of English Civil War. Maybe next time.

    A Luta Continua!
  • Bloc Party - I Still Remember

    13 May 2007, 20:39

    Second single, second album.

    I do like these single packages Bloc Party are doing this year - build your own box set of coloured 7" singles, cd singles and download only remixes. I'm only buying one tangible piece of music a month now, so it's got to be something worthwhile, and something nice to make it into the clutter of my house. Good job that I Still Remember is a worthwhile and nice song, then. Catchy and likeable, if not actually anything to change your taste in music...

    Both the first two singles off A Weekend In The City have been splendid, and with a bunch of excellent b-sides too. Cain Said to Abel is a pacey, whirling, guitar-driven piece that would have sat nicely on Silent Alarm: in fact, all six b-sides released so far this year are easily of a comparable quality to A Weekend In The City, if not stronger than some of the tracks.

    A Weekend In The City is very much a second album: it sacrifices some of the energy and hunger of Silent Alarm for a more considered maturity. It doesn't do what News and Tributes or Antics do, however, and forget what made the debut albums distinctive and interesting. Lyrically, it all makes more sense, but I don't know if that's necessarily a good thing. I rather liked the obliqueness / opaqueness of Silent Alarm

    Atonement allows Kele to wander melodically in the way that he often does on A Weekend In The City, particularly on tracks such as Where Is Home?, but it's tied down by Gordon and Matt's rhythm section much more effectively and purposefully.

    Selfish Son is a bit special - it's a sensitive piece that builds and builds really effectively. I got into this lot because they reminded me of The Cure, and I often wish that Robert Smith had had the imagination to go in this sort of direction than sink further into self-parody and whatever he was thinking of on The Cure

    The remixes are fine - none of them do anything quite as exciting as She's Hearing Voices (Erol Alkan's Calling Your Dub) or Luno (Polysics Harajuku mix), but they're all listenable, if fairly interchangeable. I Still Remember (Music Box And Tears Mix) does exactly what it says on the tin! Nothing as bloody-minded and unlistenable as The Prayer (Para One Remix), thank God.

    So, all very tasteful, and nicely packaged. Looking forward to the next one now, please.